The layered look: Lasagna lets you dig through strata of noodles, sauce, cheese

September 25, 1996|By Marie Piraino | Marie Piraino,EATING WELL MAGAZINE United Feature Syndicate

Lasagna is like a sandwich: you can put anything between the layers and it's still lasagna. In the United States, lasagna is actually the ultimate Dagwood, always assembled following the "more is better" model.

In its home of origin, however, lasagna is a very different animal. While it certainly ranks as one of the richest dishes in the Italian repertoire, it's almost austere compared to its American catch-all counterpart. In Italy, lasagna has more vegetables and lighter sauces -- and less cheese -- making it a much lighter dish.

Spinach and sausage lasagna

Makes 8 servings

12 ounces dried or 1 pound fresh lasagna noodles

3 cups low-fat milk

1/3 cup all-purpose white flour

2 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese (3 tablespoons)

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (2 ounces)

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

2 10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

3/4 cup low-fat cottage cheese

6 ounces sweet Italian-style turkey sausage, removed from casing

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 onion, sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 7-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped ( 3/4 cup)

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup grated part-skim mozzarella cheese (1 1/2 ounces)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook noodles until barely tender (8 minutes for dried, 1 minute for fresh). Drain and rinse under cold water. Spread the noodles on clean kitchen towels, cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

In a large saucepan, heat 2 1/2 cups of the milk over medium heat until steaming. Meanwhile, put flour in a small bowl and gradually whisk in the remaining 1/2 cup milk until smooth; whisk into the hot milk and stir constantly over the heat until the sauce comes to a simmer and thickens. Continue cooking and stirring for 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Whisk in cream cheese, then Parmesan, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and nutmeg. Set the cheese sauce aside.

In a bowl, stir together spinach and cottage cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a large nonstick skillet, cook sausage over medium-high heat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until it is no longer pink, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and chop fine. Set aside.

Wipe the skillet clean and add oil. Return the pan to the heat, add onions and cook, stirring, until well-browned, about 6 minutes. Add garlic, marjoram or oregano, and fennel seeds and cook for 1 minute longer. Stir in peppers, wine and the cooked sausage and simmer until the wine has nearly evaporated, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a 9-by-13-inch baking dish or coat it with nonstick cooking spray.

Smear the bottom of the prepared dish with 1/2 cup of the cheese sauce. Line the bottom with a single layer of noodles. Spread half the spinach mixture over the noodles. Spoon on another 1/2 cup of sauce and use a rubber spatula to spread it evenly. Add another layer of noodles, top with all of the sausage mixture and another 1/2 cup sauce. Add a third layer of noodles, the remaining spinach mixture and another 1/2 cup sauce. Finish with the remaining noodles and sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella.

Lightly oil a large piece of aluminum foil or coat it with nonstick cooking spray, and use it to tightly cover the dish. Bake the lasagna for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake about 15 minutes more, or until lightly browned and bubbling. Let stand for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Per serving: 400 calories; 23 g protein; 11 g fat, 49 g carbohydrate; 520 mg sodium; 19 mg cholesterol; 2 g fiber.

Sicilian lasagna

Makes 8 servings

12 ounces dried or 1 pound fresh lasagna noodles

2 eggplants (about 2 pounds total), cut crosswise into 3/8 -inch-thick slices

1 1/2 tablespoons salt, plus more to taste

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 cups low-fat cottage cheese

2 cloves garlic, peeled

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, plus whole leaves for garnish

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

NTC freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 cups prepared spaghetti sauce

1 14-ounce can tomatoes, drained, seeded and chopped

2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar

1 cup grated part-skim mozzarella cheese

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook noodles until barely tender (8 minutes for dried, 1 minute for fresh). Drain and rinse under cold water. Spread the noodles on clean kitchen towels, cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

L Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place rack in lower third of oven.

In a large bowl, toss eggplant slices with 1 1/2 tablespoons salt. Add cold water to cover and place a bowl on top of the slices to keep them submerged. Let soak 5 minutes. Drain, rinse and pat dry.

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